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Cirque du Soleil closes Las Vegas Strip shows; 1,500 lose their jobs

Updated March 14, 2020 - 9:55 pm

Cirque du Soleil, Las Vegas’ predominant entertainment production company for more than 25 years, is halting all of its shows on the Strip because of the coronavirus pandemic, putting about 1,500 employees out of work.

Other Las Vegas headliners, including David Copperfield at the MGM Grand and Penn & Teller at the Rio, followed suit with similar announcements later Saturday evening.

A total of 1,500 Cirque employees lost their jobs as a result of the halt of performances, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Multiple sources said Saturday that those employees would not be compensated by the company during the dark period.

“I’m signing up for unemployment Monday, and am cashing out my PTO (paid time off),” one longtime Cirque employee said on condition of anonymity. “It’ll take at least a month to get my first unemployment check, probably longer because everybody is going to be signing up.”

The company confirmed in a statement Saturday it would close six productions indefinitely: “O” at Bellagio, “Ka” at MGM Grand, “The Beatles Love” at The Mirage, “Mystere” at Treasure Island, “Zumanity” at New York-New York and “Michael Jackson One” at Mandalay Bay. The shutdown will last at least 30 days.

Blue Man Group at Luxor, a Cirque acquisition, also is going dark. The show has run on the Strip since opening at Luxor in March 2000.

“From the very beginning of the new coronavirus outbreak, the Group took rigorous measures to protect its work teams and the public. Our priority has always been, and remains, the health and safety of our artists, our partners, our employees and our audiences,” the statement read in part.

Tickets for canceled performances will automatically be refunded within 30 days, the statement said.

The company’s history of resident shows dates to the opening of “Mystere” at Treasure Island on Christmas Day 1993.

Even in the face of coronavirus pandemic concerns, numbers for Cirque’s most successful show, “O,” have remained strong. The show ran at 60 percent and 70 percent capacity for its two shows Friday and was showing similar numbers for Saturday’s shows. It turns a profit at 40 percent capacity.

But the company reportedly is concerned that already slumping tourism will dissipate further as the pandemic spreads. Las Vegas resort operators have been hammered with convention, concert and special event cancellations, international travel restrictions, plunging visitation and Strip employees who have tested presumptively positive for the new coronavirus.

Just Thursday, the company announced it was cutting back its shows from two performances per night to one, beginning next week. It also has pulled all of its touring shows off the road.

‘Nothing is more important’

Legendary magician David Copperfield performed 15 shows at his MGM Grand theater last week. Saturday, he announced he is suspending his production.

Copperfield said in a text and in a later Twitter post:

“Especially in times like these, magic is important. It reminds us to dream and believe in our own ability to achieve the impossible. Nothing is more important than the health and safety of my audience, my team and my family. So we’re pausing shows today to assess the situation. We hope to resume very soon.”

Drawing an international audience from 10 world tours, Copperfield characteristically sells out his own theater, formerly the Hollywood Theatre, at MGM Grand. He has been a regular Vegas headliner for 40 years, and the MGM Grand venue was named for him in 2013.

‘Concern and love for our audiences’

Penn & Teller, favorites in Las Vegas since 1993, also announced Saturday that they are off the stage until further notice.

“We are heartbroken to disappoint our fans, but the new figures that have come in today make it clear that the risk of bringing our fans together in (the) theater tonight is just too great. So we will be closed for a while,” Teller said in a statement Saturday. “We love you all and will be back with you as soon as we possibly can.”

Penn Jillette posted on Twitter: “Out of concern and love for our audiences, & well, concern and love for everyone — we will be canceling our shows starting tonight for the next few weeks Hope to be back on stage soon when gathering is once again responsible. Let’s all take care of ourselves & each other.”

Saturday’s show had reportedly sold 1,000 tickets in the duo’s eponymous theater at the Rio.

The duo have headlined Las Vegas since debuting at Bally’s in January 1993, and have starred at the Rio since 2001. In all, they have performed together for 43 years.

“We are all in this together,” Jillette said in a text message. “We felt doing our show would be irresponsible. That’s just true now. And I hope it’s not true again soon.”

Last month, Teller returned to the stage after undergoing extensive surgeries on his back.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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